BY DARWIN CHING – The vacancy in the Honolulu Prosecutor’s office offers voters a golden opportunity to redefine its role.  Voters nationwide are rethinking our criminal justice policies and practices because of obvious failures.  Repeat offenders, rising crime, unsolved crimes and the enduring drug epidemic are evidence of these failures in Honolulu. The solution is to be proactive and not only to be tough in Court but also be more effective in dealing with criminals.  This is done with community involvement, problem solving and partnerships or simply put – proactive community prosecutions.

What choices do we have?  It is said that “insanity” is repeatedly doing the same ineffective things and getting the same ineffective results.  Thus, we can retain the present essentially reactive “lock them up and throw away the key” approach and get the same failures.  Or instead, we can fully move to a proactive approach by also using problem solving innovations, community policing and community prosecutions, and evidence based prosecution practices.  The underlying logic is rooted in part to the “broken windows-theory “ which essentially describes the common sense human experience that if you don’t stop the small crimes it grows and encourages the larger crimes.  Thus, we must also focus on vandalism, public nuisances, prostitution and other “quality of life” prosecutions.

The reactive approach has a “career criminal offender” labeled only after being caught for committing certain heinous crimes, which by then may also often number in double digits.  The proactive approach would instead also focus on early targeting of the career criminal misdemeanant/ juvenile offender before he/she develops into the hardened career criminal.  The underling logic here is that that 10% of the criminals committed 50+% of the crimes committed and so we must target and deal with them early.  Nipping them in the bud is consistent with the “broken windows-theory.”

In Honolulu, one example of the proactive approach is State Circuit Judge Alm’s, “Project Hope”.   In the past the Honolulu Prosecutor’s office has been reactive and on record as objecting to its expansion to all defendants.

Rethinking of our criminal justice policy and practices is also based on the realization that nationwide as of 2008, 1 in 100 adults was behind bars and while 95% would eventually return to our neighborhoods but unfortunately 2/3 of those will commit a crime within three years.   Hawaii adds to those nationwide statistics by revealing that it costs of $50,000+ a year to keep one person locked up. Thus, the victimization of the public continues long after the original victim has been hurt.

Property crimes continue to be unresolved and a continuing plague on our society unabated by traditional prosecutorial reactive practices.  No one seriously disputes the common sense notion that the drug habits of repeat offenders are financed by these crimes.

Thus, notwithstanding this continuing failure to get to the root problems, the essentially reactive approach remains unabated in Honolulu due to the lack of information, public discourse and debate on the matter.  Touting Honolulu as one of the “safest cities” in the country is to merely accept the status quo or present level of crime, but not to be smart or effective about reducing it.  Moreover, it is contrary to the perceptions of the citizens in our communities and the actual underlying trends –see headline and article, “On Oahu, Crime Up”  (Star-Advertiser 6/20/10).

What can you do?  This fall we can continue to reject expansion of Project Hope and other proactive programs as has been done in the past by the Honolulu Prosecutor’s office or you can vote that Honolulu deserves better!  How your candidates stand on these issues will redefine the Honolulu Prosecutor’s office in 2010 and beyond.  I stand for being proactive and taking back Honolulu from those who have abused our Aloha!

Darwin Ching is a former city prosecutor who has run his own private law practice in Honolulu. He also served as the state labor director for Hawaii.

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